Sic transit gloria mundi, part the first

I strongly suspect that most people who read this blog also subscribe to the OED’s word of the day as I have done for some years. Many times, the word of the day is ‘archaic,’  having been pitched from common parlance by the barbarities of linguistic change.  Such savagries are the reason why we weed our gardens when we’d all really rather go out and aberuncate the hell out of that blasted Canada thistle that has somehow managed to resurrect itself for the third summer in a row! Other times, rather than ‘rare and archaic,‘  the word of the day has the rather more valedictory categorization of ‘obsolete‘ attached to it. I define obsolete as ‘given short-shrift and utterly deserving of revitalisation’. I do so partly out of self-defense because these are not infrequently words I still use. (I do not even try to keep up with the cultural memos on such things.)

What he said. St. DenisOther times, they’re words that I’ve never seen before and never, ever, ever want to forget. Here is one of my favorites from some time back:

† morigerous, adj. Obedient, compliant, submissive. Also figurative.
Origin: A borrowing from Latin, combined with an English element. Etymons: Latin mōrigerus, -ous suffix.
Etymology: <  classical Latin mōrigerus compliant, obliging ( <  mōr-, mōs custom (see moral adj.) + -gerus (see -gerous comb. form), after mōrem gerere to humour or comply with the wishes of a person) + -ous suffix. Compare earlier morigerate adj.

Without a doubt, this is word deserving of a linguistic defribillator. To kickstart the revolution, I offer:

“Julia, why can’t you be morigerous, like your sister?”

“After years of eye-rolling and impatient sighs on the part of his wife, Mr. Henry learned to stifle a lightening quick wit and tendency to pun. He was, in short, humiliated into a morigerous state that better suited her tastes and inclinations. Both Mr. Henry and the world were the lesser for the change.”

Now, there are of course the days when the word is not obsolete but rather forgotten, this was the case with my all-time favorite word of the day which also happens to come from one of my favorite Dickens’ novels. (Not my favorite–that would be Little Dorrit–but Our Mutual Friend is way up there.) Those in the academic world will instantly recognize this word’s applicability both to a particular species of undergraduate and certain faculty colleagues.

Podsnappery, n. The characteristic behaviour or attitudes of Dickens’s Mr Podsnap; insular complacency and blinkered self-satisfaction.

Pronunciation: Brit. /pɒdˈsnap(ə)ri/
U.S. /pɑdˈsnæp(ə)ri/Origin: From a proper name, combined with an English element. Etymons: proper name Podsnap  , -ery suffix.
Etymology: < the name of John Podsnap (see Podsnap n.) + -ery suffix.

For examples, one cannot do better than to quote John Podsnap’s creator:

1864   C. Dickens Our Mutual Friend (1865) I. i. xi. 98   “These may be said to have been the articles of a faith and school which the present chapter takes the liberty of calling, after its representative man, Podsnappery.”

“Marguerite’s fork hung suspended in mid-air. It was only a life-time of good manners that kept her jaw from dropping. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d encountered such podsnappery. Not on a first date, at any rate. She might have remained in that stupor well beyond the bounds of good manners had not the food on her fork decided it had enough suspense and jumped.”

Other times, the word of the day is a well enough known, but it comes to one’s attention at such a moment wherein it triggers very different mental perambulations. These perambulations are, in my case, generally frivolous and piffling as manifested by the above. Still, when the OED posted stupor mundi several weeks into the COVID lockdown, the phrase set off something else.  It seemed appropriate in a ironic and decidedly grim way that, as the weeks, passed only became more grim and less ironic in any humorous. One can–in this moment in history–think of things more critical than weeds in need of being aberuncated, like some of our institutional Podsnaps and, for some, our own morigerous inclinations.

And that’s where we’ll pick up with part the second.


NB Aberuncate has not–to the best of my knowledge–ever been a word of the day for the OED, but I couldn’t resist using it as it is one of those highly satisfying words that–like its synonym extirpate–does most ably “suit the action to the word, the word to the action”.

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